Is this joke racist?

Friday night I performed at the Poor Souls Society of St. Louis which is an arts center located about a mile or so north of downtown St. Louis on the rejuvenated 14th Street.  I looked forward to this particular set, though only ten minutes, because it was a chance to perform in an urban room.  In comedy, an urban room is one where most, if not all of the crowd, is black.  In my book I explain the adjustments that need to be made because urban comedy is different in some ways than what most of us are used to when we perform around the Midwest.  The reason I looked forward to the set so much is because I wanted to see how the material about teaching at an inner-city high school would do with a black crowd.  I had been struggling to get enough laughs with it in a few of my recent shows which were at a club in Chattanooga and smaller bar shows around St. Louis in front of hipsters.  These crowds were predominantly white with a small mixture of other ethnic groups.  The lack of laughs were due to the majority of the crowd feeling uncomfortable on behalf of those they thought I was offending.

On Friday night, like I said, the crowd was 98% black (the bartender was white) and the same material about teaching inner-city did the best it’s ever done.  The point that I write about is that more often, white people get offended on behalf of people that they think you’re offending.  It’s dumb, but that’s how society works.  There are ways to decrease this problem, but sometimes it’s really up to the crowd.  The bottom line is that depending on the situation and audience, some jokes or bits have no definite answer to the title question.  As the comic, you don’t get to tell the crowd, “No no, this joke isn’t offensive or racist.  Black people love it!  I did an urban show last week…”  Just like with every other joke in your set, they ultimately get to decide how they’ll react.  In Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage I include tips to preface this kind of material in different situations that will dramatically increase the success of edgier bits as well as other guidelines to the other types of shock humor.  As far as hipsters go…what can you expect from guys who wear glasses even when they have 20/20 vision and girls who cut their bangs to match the path of a windshield wiper?

Two local St. Louis announcements…I’ll be featuring with Dan Cummings this Wednesday-Saturday at the St. Louis Funnybone and my first local book signing will be this Saturday from 10-noon at 6 North Cafe in Ballwin.  Check for more details.

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